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When the going gets tough, the tough don't show up to vote.

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So, the federal budget passes and 80 Liberal MPs fail to show up to vote on it, primarily because it contained contentious amendments to immigration law opposed by the Grits. Is this capitulation, cowardice or clever politics?Early handicappers argued the immigration bill - which gives the federal immigration minister robust powers to limit the number of immigrants coming to Canada - was going to snooker the Liberals. The Tories cynically buried it within the budget bill, making it a matter of confidence. Vote for it, the Grits avoid an election but they are condemned by immigrants who have always been a core constituency of support. Vote against it and trigger an election, something the Stephane Dion-led Liberals desperately do not want right now. Those early predictions failed to account for option three - just don't show up.As hard as it may seem to comprehend, it was not showing up was probably the best strategy available to the Liberals. Some Liberal MPs did show up for the vote and were recorded as opposed, in keeping with the party's position. And by not showing up, Liberals were saved from the absurdity of abstaining. That is not to say the Liberals will get off without some collateral damage.Both the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP flung criticism at the Grits, accusing them of abandoning their democratic responsibilities and aiding and abetting the Conservatives in eviscerating the immigration system. This is fair comment, even if they are delivered with a bit too much venom. However, this really is more about positioning for an election than it is an abandonment of solemn democratic responsibilities.Quebec politics is chaotic right now, with neither the Liberals nor Conservatives providing much of an alternative to the Bloc. The BQ has the luxury of voting against the budget bill because it is the only party that does not fear an election, primarily because it would likely benefit from a vote sooner rather than later.The NDP, on the other hand, see this as a keen opportunity to leap frog both the Tories and Liberals in key battlegrounds like Toronto and Vancouver, where large immigrant communities are keenly aware and concerned about the immigration bill. Condemn the Tories for introducing the law, and the Liberals for not defeating it, and hope that when the smoke clears, there's another 20 NDP MPs in the House of Commons.Perhaps, in a more perfect world, the Liberals would have selected a leader that would have them ready for an election now, and they could have trounced the budget bill with abandon. That didn't happen. By not showing up for the vote, the Liberals have generally kept their position intact and have ensured for the most part that the Conservative government will have to bear the responsibility for the immigration bill.The NDP and Bloc should remember that immigrant voters are not rubes and they know which party is the author of the changes to the immigration act. And when it comes time to vote in the next election, immigrants and their advocates will likely focus on the party that introduced the bill, not the party that gave an opportunity to defeat it. The fact is that by allowing the immigration bill to pass, the Liberals have all but ensured the Tories own the immigration bill, and as a result will continue to have difficulty getting traction in the key urban battlegrounds across the country they desperately need to form a majority government. Will voters in Toronto, for example, jump to the NDP out of disappointment the Liberals didn't defeat the bill? Perhaps, but not likely.It's ugly but within the context of the black art of parliamentary democracy, it's effective. The real question now is, will it help the Liberals get back in the game? Unless the Liberals can find an antidote to the pathetic profile of their leader, it's just a stay of execution. With a spring election now out of the question, it will be interesting to see what the Liberals do this summer to change their fortunes.-30-

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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.


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